Saturday, 17 September 2011

Kingdom Moments

GospelMatthew 20:1-16 

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard. Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, “You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage.” So they went. At about the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same. Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing round, and he said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?” “Because no one has hired us” they answered. He said to them, “You go into my vineyard too.” In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first.” So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each. When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. They took it, but grumbled at the landowner. “The men who came last” they said “have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat.” He answered one of them and said, “My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?” Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.’

This is a difficult reading. Particularly difficult when we feel that we are part of the group who have been toiling all day or even able to admit that, maybe, it was just part of the day. But we never like to think of ourselves as those that turned up for the last hour.

It is a strange truth that the parts of the Gospel that deal with this type of reckless and unreasonable forgiveness seem to bother us the most. Certainly form the basis for a heated debate and much shaking of heads; wondering why we bother.

But if this is the question - then maybe, and I ask myself this, maybe we have not even earned an hour's pay in God's vineyard.

Maybe we were hired at the very beginning but have spent the day sitting in the shadows of the protective wall watching everyone else do the work; carrying the lighter basket; taking the extra cup of water - thinking that just being there was good enough.  And then probably having the nerve to be at the frontline in the criticism ; after all - we were there. Hired and accepted - payment promised - with a handshake to seal the deal.

But is that enough?

Last time this Gospel came around I thought about the 'Last hour' people as people who were lost; and unwanted; like the beggars you often see on city streets; looking for work but who would ever hire them?

People who find themselves abandoned by society  or living without hope often come to a point where they only have God to turn to and only then when every other avenue has been tried and lost.

The redeeming message is that, for such people, when you give up all that you have, wholeheartedly to God then all that has gone before is redeemed.  And for many their future lives are filled with the paradox of knowing themselves loved in God's eyes whilst continuing to be judged on past events by the world.

Last week's Gospel told us that this is wrong, We are meant to offer the forgiveness that the world is incapable of.

 It seems we, I , am unable to stop judging people either for good or for ill. But in seeking out the opportunity for forgiveness we should be able to see better with Kingdom eyes.

Time has been been on my mind lately. Thinking about this and the difficulty with reconciling the 'Last hour' to a days worth of labour I was reminded of something which did give me a new viewpoint.

I was involved in a project that delivered creative art workshops for people with social issues across my area. Adults sometimes but mostly schools. Schools, generally, are very keen to get value for money and I would often find myself working with multiple classes throughout the day - I think 140 students in a day was my record.

To even hope to provide a 'creative experience' for this number of students was a logistical challenge that, for me,  often weighed heavy on my own creativity and made me question what benefit that 40/60 minutes could make to a person living with many other difficult life challenges.

To be truthful the workshops were always enjoyable but on occasions there would be a special moment - it could be as simple as the first time someone wrote their name; used a sewing needle or made it through a lesson without a panic attack. Moments that would be celebrated by students and teachers.

Out of thousands of hours they are moments that are precious. And that continues now with the hours of my life and the hundreds of people that I encounter - there are always Kingdom moments that are simply 'right'. Moments when I am no longer 'idle'.

Moments that, given the choice, I would say to God - 'Never mind what has gone before - if you are going to judge my worth, Lord, judge me on that.'



Philomena Ewing said...

Wonderful account and very humbling too. Your work is wonderful and demanding . I thank God for your gifts.

Word in the Hand said...

Thank you Phil, it's often a humbling experience. Without God to help I'd have no chance.
blessings to you x